Last week, at an event hosted by Georgetown University, where he studied four decades ago, Ron Klain spoke about how close he is to America’s 46th President. “I have been fortunate enough to work for Joe Biden on and off for over 30 years,” he said. “And so I know him well and I know what his needs are, how he likes to be recruited and how he likes the operation to go.”
The operation that is Biden’s presidency has certainly gone well so far. This week he celebrated his 100th day in office, having achieved its two main objectives: a rapid deployment of vaccination against the pandemic and a stimulus plan of 1.9 billion dollars restart the economy.
Klain, the White House chief of staff, is among key architects of this success, cementing his status as one of the most skilled American political managers of his generation. “No one was so well prepared to become a White House chief of staff, and so far I think he’s up to it,” says Chris Whipple, author of The gardians, a book on the role. “If Trump’s White House was a smoldering, backfire jalopia, then Biden’s White House is a finely tuned Rolls-Royce.”
A defining moment for the administration came in March, when the stimulus bill received its final approval from Congress. Biden followed the vote with a small group of advisers. “When the discussion was over, the chairman thanked the room, then turned to Ron and said, ‘Look, we all know this wouldn’t have been possible without Ron’. And Ron immediately said, “It wouldn’t have been possible without the team,” said a senior administration official.
“I think that defines the way he approaches work better than anything. He is a chief of staff who has the confidence and confidence of the president, but who also ensures that the people of the building share the credit, ”she adds.
Klain, 59, was born to a Jewish family in Indianapolis: his mother was a travel agency and his father a building contractor. His own aspirations for a post were quickly dashed in Georgetown: he sought a seat in the Student Senate but was disqualified and fined a dollar for campaigning too close to a polling station, according to a 1979 . college newspaper article, unearthed by Politico, a political website.
After earning a law degree from Harvard University, he returned to Washington in the late 1980s, as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, then on the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Biden. Other political roles followed, including that of Chief of Staff to Vice President Al Gore (actor Kevin Spacey would later play Klain as a fierce lawyer defending Gore’s case in the HBO movie. Tell).
After Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Vice President Biden chose Klain as his chief of staff. He has become one of the Democratic Party’s top presidential debate scholars, helping both Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“To be a great debate coach you have to really master all areas. There is the policy, there is the communications, there is the process, there is the presentation, ”said Karen Dunn, a litigation lawyer who joined the sessions. “Ron was able to bring great vision and vision to all of these categories and at the same time be admired and loved.”
One of Klain’s most high-profile missions during the Obama years has been dealing with the Ebola outbreak, which prepared him for the coronavirus. “He knows how government works and how to make it work,” says Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Klain also had experience as a lobbyist, working for clients such as Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage giant. He was also general counsel at Revolution LLC, the venture capital firm founded by Steve Case, former CEO of AOL.
Over the years, it has gained a reputation for its accessibility. “He is one of the most temperate [people in Washington], which is sometimes a rare quality in politics these days, ”said Tom Daschle, the former South Dakota senator who hired him in the 1990s.
Everything did not go perfectly. Klain had to face the failed nomination of Neera Tanden for the budget manager; the struggles of the White House for coping with a wave of migration across the southern border and fierce criticism for hesitating to raise the refugee ceiling, a key campaign pledge. Republicans accused the White House of overly aggressive tax and spending policies and said the president had failed to deliver on his bipartisan vows.
But Klain is not easily upset, say those close to him. “A real asset is the ability not to let an immediate twist or turn derail an overall strategy or derail the building – not letting people fall on their own or decide all is lost,” says Anita Dunn, Senior White House Advisor.
Some of the president’s allies believe Klain has the potential to become one of the White House’s most effective chiefs of staff. But Whipple says it’s too early to tell. “The hardest part of being chief of staff is walking into the Oval Office, closing the door and telling the president what he doesn’t want to hear. He can live up to it, and he can’t. Some White House leaders who get too close to the boss are having a hard time ”.
For now at least, Democrats are generally happy with Klain’s performance. “It puts out fires big and small, it solves problems and helps keep promises,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former Obama administration official. “This is what you expect from your chief of staff.”
Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey